BELTON — Mary Hardin-Baylor is technically idle this week, but the Crusaders will be far from inactive.
With an open date in the middle of its regular-season schedule, second-ranked UMHB (5-0) will spend its days toying with the offense, healing the injured and finding opponents for future years, among other things.
“Our goal is to heal some guys, work on some fundamentals and give some young guys the chance to really be evaluated by our coaches,” Crusaders coach Pete Fredenburg said Monday.
It’s difficult to say an offense that is averaging 476 yards and 38 points per game is struggling, but the Crusaders aren’t accustomed to getting bogged down against lesser opponents — as they did at times against Kean (N.J.), Sul Ross State and last Saturday against Trinity.
UMHB has had trouble stretching the field vertically, with many of its passing yards coming on screen plays. As such, defenses are loading the box and making it more difficult to run.
Fredenburg believes a package that features running backs Elijah Hudson and Caleb Moore on the field at the same time will help, along with some quicker in-game adjustments by the coaches.
“Trinity was squirming their safeties to take away some stuff on the strong side, and it took us a while to get back to the weak side,” he explained. “That should happen a whole lot faster. Some of it is our responsibility as coaches.”
UMHB’s Pistol offense features only one running back, but the Crusaders have lined up in the I-formation — which they ran for more than a decade — more often than they did the past few seasons.
“We have two really good running backs and you’d hate to see one of them on the sideline, so we’re going to see about using both,” Fredenburg said. “We’re just trying to take a little pressure off (sophomore quarterback Zach Anderson). We’re trying to establish the run without him having to read the option all the time.”
Hudson, the team’s leading rusher, did not play in the last two games but should be getting back up to speed this week.
“Elijah should be recovered this week,” Fredenburg said. “His ankle has been sore, and we didn’t think it was worth it last week if we could get by without him.”
A bigger concern is the status of senior defensive tackle Silvio Diaz, the American Southwest Conference preseason defensive player of the year, who didn’t suit out against Trinity because of a foot injury.
“They’re concerned that there is some cartilage or ligament damage in his foot, and the only way to heal it is with time,” Fredenburg said.
“If that’s the case, I think it takes four to five weeks. So we’re praying and hoping.”
Working the phones
With the departure of McMurry to Division II a couple of years back, Texas Lutheran’s switch to the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference after last season and Mississippi College’s move to Division II next year, UMHB has been on a seemingly endless search for nonconference opponents.
Therefore, a considerable amount of time during the open week will be spent trying to fill holes on future schedules.
“We’re calling every Division III team in the United States this week. We’re calling every one of them because we need two games in 2014 and three in 2015,” Fredenburg said. “It’s very difficult because when you have some good success, people shy away from playing you.”
Starting next season, the ASC will be left with just six football teams — meaning each one must find five non-conference games — and the SCAC already has only four.
A simple solution would be to combine the ASC — UMHB, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne, East Texas Baptist, Sul Ross State and Louisiana College — with Trinity, Texas Lutheran, Southwestern and Austin College of the SCAC, if those school’s presidents could come to that agreement.
“I told (Trinity coach) Steve Mohr that it’s crazy for them to have their conference and then us have ours,” Fredenburg said. “Steve said he was in favor of combining them and saving money and travel.”
UMHB will likely keep its non-conference matchup with Redlands (Calif.), and another regular-season meeting with rival Wesley (Del.) is in the works.